ITIL 2011: it’s how you use it that counts

ITIL, the UK government-owned guidance on IT service management best practice, has been widely adopted across the IT industry since it first appeared, but what has its latest update achieved?

ITIL, the UK government-owned guidance on IT service management (ITSM) best practice, has been widely adopted across the IT industry since it first appeared more than 20 years ago. In July this year, the five books at the heart of ITIL - service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation, and continual service improvement - were updated for the first time since ITIL version 3 appeared in 2007.

But what has the update achieved, and how will the ITSM community will benefit from this new edition?

Like all new editions of industry guidance, ITIL 2011 gives us ammunition for heated debate and criticism, not all of which is constructive or helpful. And the debate might put people off ITIL altogether, which would be a shame because there's a lot about ITIL 2011 that's very good:

It is not a panacea - and as with all such things it could always be further improved - but ITIL offers some extremely useful content. Lots of clarification is given in all five books, particularly with the much easier-to-read, more practical and substantially thicker service strategy book.

Twenty-six processes are now detailed, including the business relationship management process which has been so useful to those who have aligned to the international ISO/IEC20000 service management standard. A hundred and three roles are mentioned, but this doesn't mean you need all of them, and many roles can be done by a single person in most organisations. The same goes for the 16 functions or teams.

Remember that this is only guidance and example. You will need to decide which parts to ignore, which to use, and how to adapt them to suit your particular needs.

There is always going to be lots of debate as there is never only one solution - it's open to opinion, and answers will be different depending on all sorts of circumstances and conditions. Good practice and best practice are always moving on, so we shouldn't be surprised or alarmed about new content, fresh debate, different ideas and some arguments.

Many people have contributed to this body of knowledge - giving their time and considerable effort to share their experience and opinions. Like all opinion, you will not always agree with it: some of it you will decide to take on board and other bits you will ignore.

Can we do better? Most of us understand the need for continual improvement, so we should be positive about this new material as it presents more input which we can use however and whenever we decide it is appropriate.

So how should the ITIL core books be used?

If you're a consultant or trainer then read through the books, or at least the bits that you are using in your work. Your customers will expect you to know about it and be able to advise appropriately. However, don't ever position ITIL as the ultimate truth, or even the single main reference - it's one source of guidance, opinion and example.

If you're working in a service management role, treat the books as one potential source of reference. Don't panic that everything you know is now out-of-date and useless because it's based on previous versions - this is not true as the 2011 edition just adds more information and clarification to the existing body of knowledge.

I think we all need some practical advice on how to approach ITIL 2011. My suggestions could be summarised as:

• The ITIL books contain some good stuff but it will probably finish you off if you try to read it all.

• Treat it as a reference resource - you wouldn't sit and read an encyclopaedia from cover to cover.

• Dip in and out when you want some guidance on a particular subject.

• Don't treat as a substitute for accessing people with appropriate experience and knowledge.

Matthew Burrows is a board member of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF UK), the UK's largest service management user group, and managing director of BSMimpact. For further information about ITIL and itSMF, visit

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